He Aupuni Palapala: Contemporary Hawaiian Books – Part 1 [text]

#180 in the Moʻolelo series, these are in no order

Noenoe Silva – The Power of the Steel-Tipped Pen

Professor Noenoe Silva was my dissertation advisor and because of this I was aware of her long-term project, which was to map the contours of Hawaiian political thought in the late nineteenth century. In doing this work, she finds two writers to be instructive: Joseph Ho‘ona‘auao Kanepu‘u and Joseph Mokuohai Poepoe. Silva wastes no time in explaining her project. The first sentence in the book states: “the main purpose of this book is to further the project of mapping Kanaka Hawai’i (Native Hawaiian) intellectual history.”

Silva shows that, despite a consensus at the time that the race would go extinct, nineteenth and early twentieth century Hawaiian scholars were deeply aware of the effect of their work on Hawaiians in the future. Using what Silva terms “mo‘oku‘auhau consciousness,” Kanepu‘u had the astounding insight that “generations of Hawaiians in 1870, 1880, 1890 and 1990 are going to want [these mo’olelo and mele].” Kanepu‘u was looking ahead specifically to our time! Poepoe was likewise engaged in this work, looking ahead to future generations:“In the early twentieth century, Poepoe could see the ongoing construction of what Ngugi wa Thiongo calls the cultural bomb being built before his eyes. The ‘psychological violence of the classroom’ was in full view and Poepoe was trying to defuse the bomb.”

Kealani Cook – Return to Kahiki

Cook is aware that there is still much we don’t know. He starts the book, almost poetically, with an ongoing debate, if not a myth: “They came from the South.We do not know exactly when they came, why they came or how many of them there were, but we know they came from the South.” By opening the book this way, Cook paves the way for his take on the various debates he addresses: debates over Hawaiian agency – the ability of our kupuna to be the makers of their own world even after contact, Hawaiians’ negotiation with capitalism, their conflicted adoption of Christianity, and their comfort with migrating out of Hawai’i, even as agents of a foreign ideology. At root, Cook shows a different picture of Hawaiians in the nineteenth century, one that is epitomized by the picture on the cover – a picture of John Tamatoa Baker, a “Kanaka capitalist, politician and traveler.” Baker travelled to Tahiti, Tonga and Aotearoa/New Zealand promoting, like Kalakaua had, a “Pan-Oceanic Lahui.”

Meticulously researched, Return to Kahikiis an exciting contribution to a growing literature that is nothing short of a revision of Hawaiian history, one that casts Hawaiians in a central role as shapers of their history, rather than victims of an imposed set of ideas and actions. This new narrative reflects the very empowerment of Hawaiian voices that it examines.

Kehaulani Kauanui – Paradoxes of Hawaiian Sovereignty

Kauanui takes on the debate that rages in Hawaiian intellectual circles over whether Hawaiʻi was colonized or occupied (a sovereign country invaded by another sovereign) and has, in other publications, asserted that Hawaiians are both simultaneously. In the Hulili journal, she proposed ways to “bridge the divide between de-occupation and decolonization without compromising our claims under international law.” In her book she holds that “despite the disavowal of colonialism by kingdom nationalists, it is precisely Western European and U.S. settler colonialism that creates … the conditions for kingdom nationalism to articulate itself in the modern Western terms of nation, manhood [and] law…”

Kauanui is very effective in describing the chronology of events, including the Akaka Bill, the 2009 ceded lands case, the 2014 Department of Interior hearings, Kanaʻiolowalu and the Naʻi Aupuni convention, and how these were shaped by disparate views on the meaning and ends of attempts to reclaim sovereignty. But this chronology is also grounded on an analysis of fundamental aspects of Hawaiian identity – notably land and land law. On this she notes, ironically, “a paradox of Hawaiian sovereignty is that we have a legacy of land privatization…”

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